Being a nonbeliever in Small Town America, I'm frequently running into the religious. After they realize that I don't believe what they do, the question they quickly ask is: "so then, what do atheists believe in?"
A valid question. When I was a theist, I had no clue what an atheist was, so I don't blame them at all for asking it.Â The answer is rather simple, and some find it less satisfying than they'd like, but the answer I usually give is: Â probably not all that different that you.
See, to be an atheist means that you don't hold a belief in deities (you don't think gods are real things). That's all there is to it.Â Just because someone proclaims atheism, this tells you absolutely nothing else about them.Â You don't know their sexual orientation, their favorite color, or their political affiliation.Â They might believe that space aliens made humans and taught them Hebrew.Â Or they might believe in ghosts, or gnomes, or reincarnation.Â Or they might not.Â You know nothing more about them, other than that they do not believe in any god or gods.
Imagine a room full of atheists.Â You can't determine anything else about them just from their atheism.Â It'd be like imagining a room full of teenagers, or a room full of wine lovers. Nothing else can be learned about each individual without asking deeper questions.
All you have to do is ask one.Â I can only speak for myself on certain topics, and I (as well as any atheist) can't speak for "atheists" as a whole.Â But most atheists might reject other supernatural claims, such as an afterlife, for the same reasons that they reject a notion of a god.Â Most atheists are also humanists, and treat others with love and kindness not because it is mandated or supplied by anything supernatural, but because it's socially beneficial and "the right thing to do".
Most theists who ask this question generally mean, "Well, if you don't believe in Jesus/God/Allah/Shiva/etc., what do you believe in?"Â So aside from the whole "god" thing, most believers and nonbelievers can agree on certain beliefs.Â Like love, compassion, protection of rights. I also believe in the theory of gravity, the theory of sexual reproduction, and the theory of evolution by natural selection.Â I also believe that even though they are morally reprehensible and should not be supported, the Phelps family of the Westboro Baptist Church should have their freedom of speech rights supported and protected.
Hopefully now you can see why asking "what do atheists believe?" is rather an incorrect question. A better one would be, "what does [this particular atheist] believe?"
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